In its never-ending war on panhandling, the San Antonio Police Department has been deploying vice detectives to issue citations for aggressive solicitation.Brodesky quoted a city memo from September declaring that “SAPD has initiated a citywide zero tolerance program on panhandlers and conducts weekly round-ups with arrests.” Nobody thinks that it's working but cops and politicians want to be seen as doing something, however pointless, and pols would rather pay for show than substance.
All through the summer, vice detectives arrested people such as Rafael Alvarado for begging for money and wandering into traffic at busy intersections.
If the goal was to waste lots of time and energy, the tickets were a slam dunk. An analysis of city documents reveals an aggressive campaign against panhandlers — likened to a quota by one expert — that has produced plenty of citations and little else.
Most everyone agrees citing panhandlers is a waste of time. But public pressure to do something, the short-term benefit of moving people out of a problematic area and a lack of other options keep the citations flowing. Meanwhile, a pilot program to steer panhandlers toward treatment has languished due to a lack of funding.
If only we were as aggressive with preventive strategies.
To Brodesky, "Municipal Court for a panhandler is like circling through a revolving door. The ones taken there loop through it without ever paying their fines because they are indigent, instead getting credit for time served. Factor in transporting and holding panhandlers, or the work hours put into citing them, and it’s downright costly." Thousands of these "quality of life" citations against repeat offenders were dismissed by the SA municipal court in 2014, he pointed out, as "defective" and pointless. His column concluded:
The department’s “mental health squad,” a six-person unit that responds to calls where a person might have mental illness, has saved taxpayers millions by placing offenders of minor offenses in treatment rather than jail.
In fact, [Chief William] McManus, Judge [John] Bull and a number of other judges and stakeholders have considered a similar pilot program for 10-15 panhandlers, but it hasn’t had much success, if any. The issue? Well, it’s ironic, really, but there is no money for it.
“Who is going to pay for the thing, or where are the beds going to be?” Bull asked.
Maybe then, our priority shouldn’t be more panhandling tickets, but funding this pilot program.
Really, it couldn’t be any less effective or wasteful.